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Bisons Starters Coming Up Small

Bisons Starters
Coming Up Small

Failing starting rotation fueling team misery

Look among the top few lines in the Buffalo Bisons pitching stats, and a window opens as to why the team has struggled of late to make any noise in the competitive International League North Division.

■ Andrew Albers, 73.2 innings pitched, 2-9, 4.40 ERA

■ Daniel Norris 62.2 innings pitched, 1-8, 3.88 ERA

Both pitchers came to Buffalo this season with great promise. In fact, the Canadian born Albers was the opening day pitcher in April. Norris, meanwhile, started the season in Toronto, where he ran into immediate problems and claims of a “dead arm,” and was sent here to Buffalo to work out his game.

For Albers, signing with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 was like a dream come true, and a chance to play for the only Canadian based team in the bigs. Albers joined the Jays in December 2014 with great promise, after making his major league debut just over a year earlier, earning two wins for the Minnesota Twins in August of 2013 after a solid season at AAA Rochester.

Despite his meteoric rise, the Twins opted not to retain his services, and Albers ended up in Korea for the 2014 season, before joining Toronto this season. He did not make the big league team, although he did get one call up to Toronto in early May.

For Daniel Norris, his spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation was cemented when the 2015 season began. Earning top prospect billing throughout much of his minor league career in the Toronto organization, Norris made his major league debut last September, and coming out of spring training, played five starts in April with the Blue Jays.

Despite the fact that he accomplished the lowest earned run average among their starting rotation, the brain trust running the Blue Jays decided that Norris needed a break from the pressure, where the team pressure is to win right now. The Blue Jays are currently in a tight race for the AL-East pennant, with only two games separating the top four teams.

Norris was despondent upon receiving his demotion to Buffalo, but has dug in to life in our city. He has turned to several unlikely sources for help, including teammate Randy Wolf, a 38 year old pitcher who is trying to resuscitate his own career here with the Bisons. Minor league pitching instructor Sal Fasano heaped all sorts of praise on his young prospect last week when he was in Buffalo. “What’s important is how he reacts to one bad pitch. If he is in there rebounding, throwing 93 and 94 mile strikes after that bad mistake, then he is learning what it takes, and that is his road back to the big leagues. Wolf added, “It’s a maturing thing. These things take time.”

Manager Gary Allenson says not to read into statistics too much when evaluating his two biggest starting pitching prospects. “The strangest thing happens every time these guys hit the mound, and that is they get no run support. None at all. It’s a totally different situation stepping on the mound early when you’re up three or four runs, as opposed to being dead or in the hole. These guys haven’t had much help at all.”

So who has carried the water for Bisons pitching this season? Besides Randy Wolf, whose lone loss this season happened way back on May 25 against Indianapolis, Chad Jenkins has been a season long workhorse.

Jenkins has appeared in 23 games with the Bisons this season, earning spot starts but mostly coming out of the bullpen. And he has gobbled up innings, earning his most recent win last weekend on the Independence Eve game before a packed house at the ballpark. Jenkins gives a lot of credit to his fellow bullpen pitchers. “We have fun down there, which is a start. If you’re having fun you’re going to play. We’ve played pretty well. Almost everybody has some big league time under their belt.

Talking about the raucous crowd last weekend, Jenkins said it made a difference. “We actually talked about that in the bullpen. We wondered what it would be like to play here in front of that many fans at every game. It couldn’t be better. There were a lot of people. It just makes it more fun to play the game that way.”

Jenkins likes coming out of the bullpen. “Coming from the pen you can play every day. Starting means waiting four days then you play then you wait four more. But the pen means having to be sharp and be ready each day.”

Expect more chaos and movement on the roster as the parent Toronto club makes whatever moves needed to give them the best chance to end their own playoff drought, which goes back to 1993 when they won the World Series. That does not bode well for the Buffalo Bisons, as Allenson and his staff will be filling holes in the roster as best possible, and chances for an August pennant chase may be already slipping away.


Saturday, July 18 is Star Wars night, and the team announced this week that less than 1000 tickets remain for that event. The 6:05pm start against Columbus will feature character appearances, themed video programming and a postgame on-field battle and fireworks show.

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